How credible are China's foreign policy signals? IR theory and the debate about China's intentions

Brandon K. Yoder*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    5 Citations (Scopus)


    Scholars and policymakers currently lack systematic criteria for determining the credibility of China's foreign policy signals, which has produced widely divergent conclusions about its likely intentions. 'China optimists' view China's cooperative signals as credible, while dismissing its noncooperative behaviors as unrepresentative of its broader preferences. Conversely, 'China pessimists' see China's cooperative signals as non-credible misrepresentation and focus on China's recent 'assertive' behavior. Drawing on theoretical scholarship on signaling and credibility in international relations, this article introduces general deductive criteria for assigning credibility to a rising state's foreign policy signals. It then applies these criteria to evaluate the specific Chinese signals that optimists and pessimists have cited in support of their respective positions. The analysis finds that both optimists and pessimists have overlooked multiple conditions that have reduced the credibility of China's cooperative and noncooperative foreign policy signals alike. This implies that far more uncertainty about China's intentions is warranted than has been acknowledged on either side of the current debate.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)577-605
    Number of pages29
    JournalChinese Journal of International Politics
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


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